Airbus rocked by fresh turbulence

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The embattled European aircraft manufacturer Airbus suffered fresh blows yesterday as its share of the jet market tumbled and a French shareholder group launched a class-action lawsuit against its parent company EADS.

New figures revealed that Airbus was outsold four to one by its US rival Boeing in the first six months of the year. Boeing received orders for 480 aircraft compared with just 117 for Airbus - a decline of more than half on its order book for the same period in 2005.

Meanwhile EADS, which owns 80 per cent of Airbus, was facing the threat of further legal action - this time from a French investor group, the Association of Active Shareholders, alleging that senior executives of the company broke the rules by selling shares before a profit warning linked to production problems on the A380 superjumbo.

EADS is already being sued by a number of US investor groups over the profit warning last month which wiped a quarter from the stock market value of the group. The Franco-German company announced that delays to deliveries of the A380 would cost it up to €2bn (£1.38bn) in lost profits over the next four years.

In March, a number of senior EADS executives including the former co-chief executive Noel Forgeard sold shares in the company at the same time as its two controlling shareholders, Lagardère and DaimlerChrysler, reduced their holdings. It subsequently emerged that EADS had known about the problems on the A380 in April, even though the stock market was not informed until June.

The sharp decline in the Airbus order book is largely due to the flop of its new mid-range jet, the A350, which has been comprehensively outsold by Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. So far, Airbus has sold only 100 of the A350 compared with Boeing's 350-strong order book for the 787. It has now admitted that it will have to go back to the drawing board to design a bigger, heavier and more powerful aircraft to compete more effectively. But this new aircraft, codenamed the A370, is likely to cost double the original €4bn estimate to build.

Airbus had hoped to unveil the design of the enlarged plane before the Farnborough air show begins next week but has been forced to delay the launch. The hiatus has been caused, in part, by the arrival of a new co-chief executive at EADS, the former SNCF boss Louis Gallois who took over from M. Forgeard last month.

One small consolation for Airbus is that it remains ahead of Boeing in the production of aircraft. Airbus deliveries for the first half of the year reached 219 - up from 189 in the same period of 2005 - compared with 195 for Boeing.

But analysts said there was no way Airbus could close the orders gap between now and December, meaning that it will be the first time in six years that Boeing has outsold its European rival. In the first six months, Airbus signed no new contracts to buy for the A380, which is stuck on 159 orders, and only 13 orders for the A350. Most of its orders were for the A320 family of single-aisle aircraft, 96 of which were sold.

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